Advances in Data Backup Technologies

By Ritchie Fiddes, Sales Director, Backup Technology
March 05, 2010

What drives advances in data backup technologies? The demand for better and faster backup technology, of course! As the volumes of mission critical information with small, medium and large enterprises swell, they trigger off a demand for larger capacity backup media; greater backup and restore speeds; greater demand for security, accessibility and high availability. They also begin to grapple with issues like categorization of data, de-duplication of data and with the crucial problem of finding the funds to backup and store this data.

At the core of this exercise is “data”. Planned data repositories will make accessibility easy. It will facilitate risk management, legal discovery and compliance with the innumerable regulations and legislation that are being implemented around data availability.

The type of data being stored will determine the type of media that is required to store the data and the storage capacity of the media. So, what are the types of data that need to be backed up and stored? Historical data that does not have to be accessed on a daily basis can be stored in tapes and tape libraries. Data that needs to be accessed at least some of the time can be stored in backup servers. Transaction data that is the lifeline of the business must be stored in fail-over clusters or mirror servers that will kick into action the moment the main server develops an operational glitch. So, let us first look at advances in data backup technology that is triggered off by each type of data.

Tape Storage is being positioned to explode the tier 3 data or historical data such as fixed content, compliance and archive market. Advances in data backup technologies in Tapes include creation of tapes with longer media life, improved drive reliability, higher duty cycles and much faster data rates.

The capacities of the tapes have tremendously increased and have even overtaken disk drives. StroageTek’s T10000 and IBMs TS1120 mainframe cartridges along with the popular LTO cartridges provide for the mid-range approach or exceed one terabyte native capacities.

The speed of data transfer to tapes via tape drives have also peaked. SuperDLT drives that can transfer up to 60–80 megabytes per second uncompressed. T10000 drives can transfer up to 120 mbps of uncompressed data to 500 GB capacity tapes.

A number of data compression and optimization and system integration features are being built into tapes and tape drive technologies. Compression technologies are moving towards fitting more data into tape with data de-duplication or intelligent compression or communality factoring. Partitioning and charge back features are being used to optimize on tapes and to provide for scalability for consolidation and high availability. Scalar i500 from Advanced Digital Information Corporation; IBM TS3310; TLS Series of Qualstar Corp and CSM200 of Sony Electronics and so on are some of the tape drives that offer one or more of these features.

Data backup on disks is regarded as low cost and high performance storage solutions for current data that does not have to be accessed on a daily basis. The amount of data that is being relegated to disks and the retention period of secondary data (before it is offloaded to tapes) disks is increasing. Data compression technologies are also improving the amount of data that is being stored in disks. CAS systems and VTL disk arrays are now capable of holding a year’s worth of data.

Power, cooling and reliability of large data backup disk installations are also in focus. Disk arrays with hundreds of disks are being created. For instance, systems have been created to migrate data between disks and to ensure that all disks are used at the same time and power consumed is reduced to improve mean time between failures. High capacity, high performance disk based backup and recovery appliance is another instance of a fast backup technology. These advances in data backup technology provides for near instantaneous backup and restore of up to 9.6 terabytes of data. It provides for both iSCSI and Fiber Channel connectivity from a single unit and can operate both as a disk and a virtual tape.

Advances in data backup technology have also made it possible to automate replication of transaction data and reduction in the amount of physical handling of data backup media. Transaction data can now be replicated across a number of geographically dispersed servers simultaneously. Synchronous and Asynchronous data backup technologies have been harnessed to seamlessly create the necessary environment for easy and continuous backup. Snapshots and block level backups of modified data are also used to reduce the amount of time and power required to update the backup in the mirror servers and other backup servers. Software that automatically resumes failed backups are also being coded to assist organizations automatically complete backups that have failed due to failed links or other problems.

The ongoing challenge in this type of backup is the bandwidth. While there are a number of advances being made in this area, de-duplication and selective backup technologies are being fine tuned to lower bandwidth needs.

A number of data security tools are also being integrated into data backup technologies. Advances in data backup technologies in this arena include backup software like Symantec Corp.’s NetBackup which offers an encryption option at a software level; CryptoStor from NeoScale Systems Inc, which allows for encryption through the dedicated drive and so on.

Another advance in data backup technology is the concept of cloud backup that is gaining importance. Cloud based infrastructures in different shapes and forms are being installed for the enterprise long term use. These can be private clouds or public clouds. The shared backup infrastructure brings with it economies of scale and unprecedented data replication and storage options to small and medium sized enterprises that are hard pressed for funds to meet backup expenses. These services are agile, scalable and on demand services that provide both the software and the hardware infrastructure that is required for backup at a very nominal cost or a subscription.

It is clear that the Backup technology scenario is changing rapidly. Interestingly, even the economic downturn did not slow down the growing demand for better and more advanced data backup technology! So, if you do not want to make history with those who failed to backup, you need to get down to seriously thinking about your options and taking advantage of the growing options that are being offered with advances in data backup technology.

About the author: Ritchie Fiddes is Sales Director at Backup Technology, a UK based data backup company specialising in business continuity.

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